Q&A with Frank

Quest for the lost city of Empyrea in Frank Mentzer's Aquaria Setting.
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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by ExTSR » Sat Sep 09, 2017 2:52 pm

Have officially left my old OSR site, where Gary and I used to hang out.

F
Last edited by ExTSR on Mon Sep 11, 2017 8:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by Havard » Sat Sep 09, 2017 9:06 pm

Checking it out.

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by Morfie » Sun Sep 10, 2017 7:51 am

There's a village/town called Dragonsfoot! I hope there's another one called The Piazza! :D

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by ExTSR » Sun Sep 10, 2017 2:32 pm

Lots easier. :)

Piazza
1. an open square or public place in a city or town, especially in Italy.
2. Chiefly New England and Inland South. a large porch on a house; veranda.
3. Chiefly British. an arcade or covered walk or gallery, as around a public square or in front of a building.

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by Big Mac » Sun Sep 10, 2017 9:25 pm

Morfie wrote:There's a village/town called Dragonsfoot! I hope there's another one called The Piazza! :D
I'm not totally sure I would want Frank Mentzer to turn me into an NPC in his new Emperia products. :shock:

I'd probably have to be one of those space aliens that lives on the other side of the Great Barrier Mountains. (Maybe I'd be an alien dude in a pub, like Morn.)
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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by ExTSR » Sat Sep 16, 2017 4:29 pm

Quite a week for the PR team. ;>

My takeaway:

I don't claim to have been hacked. I know nothing about this stuff.
I simply reported what happened, from my side.
Some then asked "So what DID happen?" while others said "Let's prove our theory!"
As a DM I see this in-game all the time. ;>

I truly forgive my haters. Try to carry on, folks.
And let me know, sometime, how it turned out. :)

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by Havard » Sat Sep 16, 2017 5:02 pm

Hi Frank,
question about the old days. I seem to remember you were doing music for some TSR projects? For some Dragonlance record perhaps?

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by ExTSR » Sat Sep 16, 2017 5:34 pm

Havard wrote:question about the old days. I seem to remember you were doing music for some TSR projects? For some Dragonlance record perhaps?
I majored in classical music composition in (late) college, and got out because I don't have a flair for creating unique melodies.
Earlier I'd performed at various folk venues, including many US National Park Service sites (campfire singalong style). My main rock bank of the later '70s recorded in a studio (sharing with period Brit rockers called "The Babys"; no idea why they were in a Philadelphia studio, something about their problems with Chrysalis records). Ah well, all in the past...

When Tracy arrived at TSR, he brought a lot of great ideas (Dragonlance, Ravenloft, etc). I was too busy to become an official part of the Dragonlance team, but I offered to contribute. He and I (and some artists) participated in an amateur rock bank (aka 'garage band') while at TSR. I don't recall the exact reasons or timeline, but I wrote some pieces for use in the original Dragonlance modules. The sheet music therein includes the March of the Knights and a Wedding Song.

Music in gaming has always been a puzzle to me. There are lots of great film scores that are appropriate, and some outstanding sites for free audio clips, but this side of the experience always seems to draw little widespread interest. Perhaps the audio component just doesn't match most gamer-style creative brains? I don't know.

Music means a lot to me in the game experience, and I hope this and other sensory experiences in gaming (touch? smell? taste?) will be developed further in the future. The increasing resources and tech innovations are obvious; all we have to do is remember to reach out and use them. :)

F
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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by RobJN » Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:01 pm

I frequently use music while gaming. And writing. I like it so much, I started a thread. (And it even got stacked!)

A friend of mine in high school plugged some of the songs from DragonLance into his Roland sound card, and orchestrated it all up. It came out really nice. Wish I still had those recordings....
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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by ExTSR » Sat Sep 16, 2017 7:05 pm

In my head it wasn't sheet music, of course.
Therein...
the March of the Solamnis (?) Knights was performed at Lincoln Center NYC, max orchestra, with a fusillade of fireballs for emphasis.

Wedding song had 500 elven witnesses who joined gradually as an increasing choir (spreading visibly away from the ceremony)
and at a crucial point a cloud passes... the golden setting sunlight envelops them all (lyrical climax "The Sun!" and continuing, q.v.)
and then that fades gradually to the personal final phrases of hope and love.

In both I tried to catch the mood of that wonderful text by Michael Williams, but it was only in my head.
The results are simplistic, and inadequate for any musical soul. Ah, publishing.

F

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by randomwizard » Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:08 pm

Hello there Frank.

I am always a little hesitant to ask you a question for fear you have been asked said question many times before. But I was wondering about your time working at TSR back in the 80s and I was wondering if you and the staff there played together much, if at all? And if so, what sorts of gaming did you guys do. Would you jump into a D&D game being run by Harold Johnson? Would someone start up a Napoleonic miniatures wargame for lunch? Would Jeff Grub call everyone into a room to playtest a prototype of Marvel? That sort of thing...

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by ExTSR » Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:45 pm

randomwizard wrote:I am always a little hesitant to ask you a question for fear you have been asked said question many times before.
While I can understand your thoughtful position, I do enjoy dialogue. Feel free.
Now if the answer is 3 posts above, I might point you that way and whack you with a digital banana, but otherwise, no prob. :)
I was wondering if you and the staff there played together much, if at all? And if so, what sorts of gaming did you guys do.
When I first arrived in early 1980, there was still a Wargamer vibe. I indulged in various minor board wargames as well as being Gary's partner (as the French) in a massive multiplayer Napoleonics miniatures campaign, moves described via interoffice memo. We played out the large engagements on the sand table in the basement of the Dungeon Hobby Shop downtown.

But during that first year, the 'feel' changed. D&D was still pretty new, the 1e DMG had only been out 1 year, and everything was changing. We playtested some games at employees' homes (Q-1 Demonweb Pits was memorable, over at Zeb's apartment with his wife and new baby Ian), but I was more of a DM than a player, so I started my D&D campaign (now called Empyrea) for fellow designers and artists. That ran for a few years, nearly until I left TSR in 1986.

When the wargamers and boardgamers faded, I stuck with D&D, and stopped playing the tactical games. Something passed, something was lost... later, in the '90s, iirc I sold off almost all the wargames, and never replaced them.

F

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by brassdragon » Thu Sep 21, 2017 9:22 pm

What was the inspiration for planar spiders? Have they been a significant part of your home campaigns? Will they appear in Empyrea?

For whatever reason, I've found those guys delightful ever since I first read their description. I've only gotten to use them in a game once, but the encounter between mutually-bewildered human and spider adventuring parties was a memorable one. And just recently, I read I11 Needle for the first time and got more fun ideas from meeting the Chak (gee whiz!).

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by ExTSR » Thu Sep 21, 2017 11:04 pm

brassdragon wrote:What was the inspiration for planar spiders? I read I11 Needle for the first time and got more fun ideas from meeting the Chak (gee whiz!).
Gary invented them in 1977. I found them in 1e MM1 page 90... 'phase-spider', which states that they go Ethereal (in primitive language; later tomes cleared up the precise terminology by 1979). So I started thinking context and intelligence and society and they became the race in I-11, with their lunar colony and missing princess and all sorts of fun.

Lots of Gary's seeds can be grown into entire forests. ;>

btw, "Chak" was a name used for humorous effect, as is the entire Needle Part 3 really, since it was originally a GenCon tournament Final on Sunday morning and everybody's brains were in end-of-con meltdown. Design tip: humor works great in such situations.

F

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by randomwizard » Fri Sep 22, 2017 3:48 am

ExTSR wrote:
brassdragon wrote:What was the inspiration for planar spiders? I read I11 Needle for the first time and got more fun ideas from meeting the Chak (gee whiz!).
Speaking of I11 The Needle. I was in Paris a couple of years ago and was walking by Cleopatra's Needle / Luxor Obelisk and I remember wondering if it was what inspired the needle in the adventure? I erroneously believed that it was brought to Paris by Napoleon but when I looked it up back then, it turns out it was a gift from the ruler of Egypt to France in the 1820s.

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by Morfie » Fri Sep 22, 2017 10:11 am

If you had stayed at TSR (and Gary too), what would your plans have been for Basic D&D and BECMI?

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by Big Mac » Sat Sep 23, 2017 12:44 am

ExTSR wrote:
Havard wrote:question about the old days. I seem to remember you were doing music for some TSR projects? For some Dragonlance record perhaps?
I majored in classical music composition in (late) college, and got out because I don't have a flair for creating unique melodies.
Earlier I'd performed at various folk venues, including many US National Park Service sites (campfire singalong style). My main rock bank of the later '70s recorded in a studio (sharing with period Brit rockers called "The Babys"; no idea why they were in a Philadelphia studio, something about their problems with Chrysalis records). Ah well, all in the past...

When Tracy arrived at TSR, he brought a lot of great ideas (Dragonlance, Ravenloft, etc). I was too busy to become an official part of the Dragonlance team, but I offered to contribute. He and I (and some artists) participated in an amateur rock bank (aka 'garage band') while at TSR. I don't recall the exact reasons or timeline, but I wrote some pieces for use in the original Dragonlance modules. The sheet music therein includes the March of the Knights and a Wedding Song.
...and...
ExTSR wrote:In my head it wasn't sheet music, of course.
Therein...
the March of the Solamnis (?) Knights was performed at Lincoln Center NYC, max orchestra, with a fusillade of fireballs for emphasis.

Wedding song had 500 elven witnesses who joined gradually as an increasing choir (spreading visibly away from the ceremony)
and at a crucial point a cloud passes... the golden setting sunlight envelops them all (lyrical climax "The Sun!" and continuing, q.v.)
and then that fades gradually to the personal final phrases of hope and love.

In both I tried to catch the mood of that wonderful text by Michael Williams, but it was only in my head.
The results are simplistic, and inadequate for any musical soul. Ah, publishing.
I'd love to know more about this. I've actually posted a topic about your Dragonlance music, over in the Dragonlance forum. Did you lot make any recordings? Would you be willing to talk about your songs on Dragonlance canticle and play clips (if you have them)?

I think it's a shame you were too busy to join the Dragonlance team. I would have liked to have seen your take on Dragonlance. The same goes for some other campaign settings I'm interested in.
ExTSR wrote:Music in gaming has always been a puzzle to me. There are lots of great film scores that are appropriate, and some outstanding sites for free audio clips, but this side of the experience always seems to draw little widespread interest. Perhaps the audio component just doesn't match most gamer-style creative brains? I don't know.
I had a chat with the man who wrote the music for the animated Dragonlance movie. I think that might have been on the Dragonlance forums over at Dragonlance Nexus. I thought his process was pretty interesting. He recorded archaic musical instruments to crete an "old" sound.
ExTSR wrote:Music means a lot to me in the game experience, and I hope this and other sensory experiences in gaming (touch? smell? taste?) will be developed further in the future. The increasing resources and tech innovations are obvious; all we have to do is remember to reach out and use them. :)
Maze Arcana use Syrinscape for both music and sound effects during their live-streamed Eberron adventures. But they had to raise money on Patreon for some of the technology they use. Some of their tech is about other stuff (like filming, sound and lighting) so I don't think that would be so much of an issue for amateurs, but I think there is also an element of "digital divide" when it comes out to stuff like this.

I think you are right that things are getting easier though. Back when TSR was working on these concepts it must have been almost science fiction to take a tabletop game and add sound, visuals and other things. I know that RPG books have become more and more slick looking, as printing techniques have improved and allowed artists working for companies like TSR and WIzards of the Coast to design art that looks awesome, rather than having to limit themselves to making art that works with monochrome printing or four colour printing. The same sort of thing has happened with music.

I used to collect MIDI files. There is a real naff-awesomeness to some of them. A lot of skill must go into the process of compressing music down to the point where it is barely above the level of beeps. I didn't really get into the Dungeons & Dragons computer games, but I now find it fun to go dig out the YouTube videos people put up of the music that was written to go with various campaign settings I like, to see if the vision of the various game design teams matches what is in my head.

There are even people who update old school D&D music now (and music for other early computer games). That's part of your "increasing tech" wave. :) I've followed two people who have done stuff with the Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace music. If I ever get any good with music creation software, I'd probably want to have a go at that music and make it sound more like it was played by an orchestra. (I'd also have liked to have had an opportunity to listen to all the music created for the Wildspace video.)

Warcraft/World of Warcraft has been a big source of inspiration for me. It's followed in the footsteps of D&D (and there has even been a D&D version of Warcraft), but Blizzard has managed to be much much more successful than TSR was with integrating music and other media into it's game. The WoW music is outstanding. They have a full orchestra playing and they give individual nations and cities their own theme songs. That really helps with the immersion into Azeroth. I know that I've met some people who have not liked all of the attempts by TSR to break D&D out of the printed format and into multimedia formats, but things like World of Warcraft prove that the various things that TSR did were innovative and ahead of their time. (And the online support for World of Warcraft is outstanding. There is more fan art and more fan maps than you can shake a stick at.)

A Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones is another thing that has followed in the footsteps of D&D (and inspired two RPGs - one of which is compatible with 3rd Edition D&D). That spun off a TV show that, while not everyone's taste, has the sort of amazing world building that I think that most D&D fans would have liked to have seen in a live action TV version of a D&D campaign setting. One thing I especially like about Game of Thrones (and the Lord of the Rings movies) is that instead of doing modern music, they have made their music feel "old". I personally find that helps me immerse myself into the idea of a fantasy world being set in a past era. Game of Thrones even makes a lot of it's music into "in character" music, where you hear some of the background characters singing some of songs that represent individual houses that exist in the Westeros setting.

If Nick Crenshaw82's thought experiment (Gary Gygax retaining control of TSR) had happened, it would have been interesting to have heard more D&D music get made.

Did you ever see the Dragon Kings Project? That was a bunch of designers/musicians who formerly worked on Dark Sun, who came back together to make a rock music CD, art book and RPG book in a similar style to Dark Sun. Perhaps that is the sort of thing you might have been involved in, if you had stayed at TSR and they had put out the Dragonlance music that had been created.
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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by ExTSR » Sat Sep 23, 2017 5:09 pm

On the doorstep of this huge Empyrea project, I ruminate on past events also. imho...

Regrets

I never met Tim Kask in 1980. He was in the Dragon Mag building, I downtown in the old Hotel. I was a brash new hire from Philly, in training as an editor; he was a product of Moline who was one of the "first Five" at TSR (1975) and a superstar. Now we've been close friends for a decade, and wonder what would have happened if we'd become friends back in that Beginning time. We think we would've become Gary's bestbuds (as we each were separately, Tim from 1975-80 and me from 1980-85), pitting the Gygax Trio vs the Blume Pair. Tim then might not have left TSR, Gary might have been able to keep to his goals without corporate compromise, AD&D 2nd edition would have been much different, and the events leading to Gary's ouster (5 years later) might not have happened at all.

In 1982 at TSR, once I became Gary's Aide and personal friend, I dared to praise the competition. Being young and foolish I was unable to verbalize my thoughts with corporate tact, and my failure as a messenger in turn failed to produce change. I should have urged them them (Gary & Brian) to embrace the other Founders of the hobby, emphasizing that our far-larger size made TSR the easily-targeted 'big bad guy', and great PR could result from noblesse oblige. But corporately they decided to maximize their success and not look back; the competition was indeed left behind, and TSR had no friends among their own industry.

In the late 1980s, at New Infinities (NIPI) we scored a big license. Robert A. Heinlein's "Glory Road" is a stellar crossover work of fantasy and science fiction combined, very much in line with my design philosophies. He (and Ginny, his wife and agent) approved our proposal: Glory Road by Gary Gygax and me. (omg omg woot!) But then Bob passed away, and everything got put on indefinite hold. NIPI folded within a year or so, and the opportunity vanished.

Near the end of NIPI, I had been solemnly informed by our attorney that TSR had expressly waived their chance to print "The Convert", and that we could legally do so. The resulting lawsuit from TSR cost me money, my shares of TSR stock, and other assets. Our 'documented legal counsel' was worthless. I thus now shift to 'rules lawyer' mode, looking for weasel-outs, whenever I consult an attorney professionally.

In the 2000s, Gary published his latest RPG, Lejendary Adventures. The OGL had just appeared (y2k) and he and Gail were very suspicious of it, legally. Gary wanted me to complete his vintage "Teeth of Dalver-Nar" tournament adventure, but he backed off because neither of us really understood how the OGL worked, nor were we about to spend money on attorneys (see above) to explain it. (Other potential co-authors were also burned by this uncertainty.) The Teeth project was parked, Gary passed in '08, and a decade later Gail has still never published anything under OGL rules. If we'd only had it explained to us, and the right time... but so it goes.

Now onward, to Empyrea and the future!
Last edited by ExTSR on Sat Sep 23, 2017 9:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by Buttmonkey » Sat Sep 23, 2017 5:16 pm

Interesting post, Frank. One clarification: Moline is in Illinois, just across the Mississippi from Iowa.

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by Baron » Sat Sep 23, 2017 5:32 pm

Wow. Thanks for sharing that. I wish your "alternate timeline" had been our reality, instead of what we got.

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by ExTSR » Sat Sep 23, 2017 9:02 pm

Buttmonkey wrote:Moline is in Illinois.
Thank you, Judge.
But I submit that it feels more like Iowa, and is part of the "Quad Cities" presumed to be Iowan.
May we request a ruling in chambers?

:geek:

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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by Willmark » Wed Sep 27, 2017 5:32 pm

I'll take a look when it's out. Not sure how/if I'd use it but at least want to see what you've done.
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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by Bud » Sat Sep 30, 2017 8:01 pm

....
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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by ghendar » Sun Oct 01, 2017 12:00 am

ExTSR wrote:
Now onward, to Empyrea and the future!
Looking forward to it. :D
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Re: Q&A with Frank

Post by stebehil » Sun Nov 26, 2017 4:32 pm

Hello Frank,

this is off-topic to Aquaria, so feel free to point elsewhere for this. I´m curious about the german translations of Basic D&D back in the 80ies. As far as I have read, you were involved in that process (and still had corrected typoscripts of some translated products a few years ago, as I just found on the Acaeum). Can you tell us/me about the translations process and the german company involved? I´m trying to piece together a history of german D&D over at the Acaeum, and any input from an industry insider would be highly appreciated. It seems quite hard to find information about the german company of that time, and of the people working for it. So, if you are recalling anything about the people involved and how the process worked, I´d be happy if you want to share that.

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